This is a Galaxy Z Fold5 with a built-in pen that will never be released. Journey to the Samsung Design Center

For every Samsung smartphone that enters the market, there are at least fifty variants that have been scrapped. Along with them are also hundreds of thousands of combinations of materials and colors that, whether due to personal taste or cultural deviation, not everyone would like.

We’re in the new Samsung R&D Center in Seoul, where a massive collection of books on colors, shapes, space, architecture, design, and all aspects of industrial design is housed in a huge library at the entrance.

If inspiration is lacking, this is the right place to go back in time, see what has already been and be inspired by what trends may be in the coming years. This is, after all, the hardest part.

This center, one of the many campuses surrounding Seoul, develops almost all of Samsung’s mobile products and collects ideas from design centers scattered across five continents.

Design Oriented Library

There are already ready-made versions of the S24, S24 Ultra and the new Flip6 and Fold6 somewhere. “We are already working for 2025 – explains Hubert Lee, new head of design for Mobile eXperience. and the biggest difficulty is precisely to understand in advance what people will like in a few years and how far we can go.”

Hubert Lee hails from the automotive world, and late last year he took over as head of design for the smartphone division, having previously headed design for Mercedes-Benz in China and the US. “The world of technology and the automotive industry are now united by the desire for innovation” – he explains, heading to a platform lined with prototypes of all the rejected flyers. – “adding that his work will be really difficult in the coming years, because he must leave his mark without distorting the excellent work done in recent years.“.

Samsung’s design choices rest on two pillars: desirability and identity: The phone should appeal to those who see it and should be instantly recognizable. In the hands of people, on bar tables, in restaurants: everyone must somehow understand that this phone is Samsung.

The goal has been achieved in recent years with Essential Design, a language chosen to create an identity between different products, an identity that revolves around the circular pattern we find in the S23 Ultra cameras, in the curves of tablets, in the Flip5 and Fold5.

Each phone curve draws the same radius

The radius of each curve is identical, the distance between the chambers and between the chambers and the edge follows a certain logic, nothing is left to chance. We understand that this path will continue in the next few years: products that retain their identity from generation to generation, products that do not age and do not even age the previous generation.

Product design is a long and difficult journey, and we realize this when we find dozens of 3D printed Flip and Fold prototypes on the table.

Samsung went through all sorts of combinations of aspect ratio and form factor before settling on one of them, and solutions like the Pixel Fold or OPPO Find N2 were rejected.

The reason is simple: the front screen is used more than the inner one, and the apps that are used most often have a list layout, these are social networks, messaging apps, notification lists. Summing up, better to have a long narrow outer screen and the phone that once opened has the tablet form factor, but vertically instead of horizontally.

Larger prototype

Samsung has also tried every possible type of Flex Hinge tilt, testing and researching ergonomics and possible use cases.

All versions of Flip with rating

We also found that much cleaner designs with near-square edges were appreciated for the Flip. We find that there is also a full-screen version of the Flip5 like Motorola’s, but that too has been dropped for technical reasons.

This version of the Flip5 is full screen, just like the Motorola Razr Ultra. It’s been discarded
Prototype with very clear lines and sharp edges
Would you like this flip?

The same fate as the Fold with a built-in pen: the layout is there, we touched it, and if we wanted, we could do it, but Samsung decided not to. The reason was explained to us by Won-joon Choi, head of research and development at Samsung, telling us that the thickness of the new pen is just over 4mm, which is 40% less than last year. it was designed precisely because it was intended to be inserted into the body of the phone.

The need to have a pen inside the Fold, like in the Galaxy S23 Ultra, was discussed by Samsung for a long time with many people, and in the end the draw prevailed. In fact, the 4mm thick pen has reached its design limit today, making it thinner means making it thinner: limiting the pen thickness to 4mm is tantamount to having a pen crease. the next few years that do not decrease in thickness. Samsung chose to keep the option to further reduce the thickness of the Fold for future generations. thus leaving the handle outside.

The current fold in the background and the prototype in the foreground

In the design center, we also learn that the most time-consuming and difficult stage is what is called Color Material Finishing, or CMF.

Huong Shin Park, the head of this division, is a kind of smartphone designer: it is she who, when the product is ready, must choose not only colors, but also the finishes of various materials.

All different metal finishes are evaluated and tested by the Huoung Shin Park team.

Seemingly a simple and trivial choice, after all, these are the colors for us, but the number of samples arranged on the tables in front of us reminded us of the famous scene from the movie The Devil Wears Prada, where Anne Hathaway burst out laughing in front of Meryl Streep – Miranda, who undecided among several blue sweaters that look absolutely identical to her.

Change of finish, transparency, color

The Galaxy Z Flip5 and Fold5 are inspired by two color palettes, Future Nature for the in-store range and Modern Nature for online exclusives, but each of these colors requires a number of considerations related to materials, their finishes, and each individual palette. combination.

For example, we’ve seen dozens of versions of the Galaxy Flip’s rear glass, all with varying degrees of gloss or matte, making even the chosen finish look different.

Each material, from the hinge to the frame, is tested in dozens and dozens of variations: changes in sandblasting, changes in roughness, changes in reflectance. Thousands of different combinations to choose from, knowing that some of them will achieve the degree of desirability that Samsung is looking for, while others will be less appreciated..

A yellow Flip5 designed for web use with a dark satin body.

The yellow Flip5, designed for online use, with a dark satin body, looks like a completely different product compared to the transparent glossy version: colors and materials can really change in a product and determine its success.

Long work that is still done by hand: first CAD modeling in front of monitors, then sketches drawn with a pen on a tablet, and finally model making on CNC machines.

It will take months to come to a final choice, even if this process could soon be accelerated with AI: Hubert Lee explains that they are already using generative AI for some processes, even if it will be difficult to replace a person in the field of design. talent and taste. Fortunately, we will add.

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